Korea is one of the Asian destinations on my bucket list, mainly because the cuisine fascinates me.

Korean restaurants have been popular in the US for decades but only reached South Africa a less than a decade ago. I must admit it is really an area that I have not explored and we don’t even have a local Korean style restaurant where I live!

There are two food items that do interest me.

The first is Gochujang – It’s spicy and I love a hint of heat!

This is a spicy condiment that is either served with dishes or used as a vital flavouring component of many dishes.  It’s often served as a dipping sauce or basting for vegetable and barbequed dishes.

It is a fermented bean paste that has red pepper powder, soya bean powder and rice flour added to create a spicy paste.

It is available at most Asian ingredient supply stores. A jar has a long shelf life. If you cannot find it, then Sriracha sauce may be substituted, but it lacks the depth of flavour of Gochujang.

And now in times of ‘bugs and viruses’ changing the way we see the world, its health properties look more attractive than ever: it is said ‘to revitalize people who were sick with colds or drugs during the Chosun Period. There have been some studies that show that red peppers fight obesity and diabetes. Gochujang is also added to many foods so that there can be additional value with each meal’. (source: Wiki)

I have a jar of this unusual paste, reminiscent of a spicy miso, in my fridge. I have been using it in marinades and curries. I love the mysterious depth of flavour that it adds to dishes.

The second is kimchi

Kimchi with avo and spring onion

You will notice that many chefs are adding a small amount of this delicious pickle to enhance their dishes. It can be powerfully overpowering so its application must be restrained.

Kimchi is also a fermented product and at the moment “anything fermented” is the foodie buzzword for 2020!

Using mainly Chinese or napa cabbage, kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation, the same process that creates sauerkraut and traditional dill pickles. In the first stage, the cabbage is soaked in salty brine that kills off harmful bacteria. In the second stage, the remaining Lactobacillus bacteria (the good guys!) convert sugars into lactic acid, which preserves the vegetables and gives them that wonderful, tangy flavor.

In the case of Kimchi various flavour components such as chiili paste (the Gochujang mentioned above), shrimp paste or fish sauce, garlic and ginger are added. The result is a pickle with delicious depth of flavour.

Chinese radish (diakon), strips of carrot and rounds of red radish can also be added.

Years ago one of my best friend’s mothers was into ‘fermented anything’! I found it rather off-putting as their home had a perpetual odour of sour milk or cabbage-like gasses. The kitchen counter had rows of yoghurts, vinegars and other concoctions that had to be ‘fed and nurtured’! Today kombucha and sour dough would probably be in the line-up! She was always fascinated that Robyn, the foodie, didn’t want a yoghurt or vinegar culture to take home! Now, I know I’m not the earth mother type…… give me my garden, and wine in a bottle…. I leave the processes to others!

I have given in and made my own kimchi!

At least it is a once off process and you don’t need to keep an ‘organism’ alive!

I love pickles. Sauerkraut and pickles are delicious, but Kimchi is not available in the supermarkets and I’m too food safety cautious to buy these items at markets!

It’s the heath properties that also motivated me to prepare a batch.

It is said that Kimchi is

  • low in calories and high in dietary fiber
  • high in Vitamins A, B, and C.
  • low in fat, well fat free until you add a few drops of sesame oil, an option when serving
  • many (if not most) Koreans eat a little kimchi with each meal or at least once a day
  • Kimchi is credited with helping most Koreans avoid obesity by virtue of its ability to satisfy even while being low calorie and low fat (this point resonated with me!)
  • Seoul National University conducted a study and claimed that chickens infected with the H5N1 virus, also called avian flu, recovered after eating food containing the same cultured bacteria found in kimchi. Who knows what effect it will have on C19, even though Korea has suffered many casualties with this virus!

So here I was with my jar of cabbage odours wafting from the pantry!

Two important points regards the ingredients are:

  • Use non-iodised coarse salt or Kosher salt.
  • Use mineral water; the chlorine in the tap water will destroy the desirable lacto-bacillus bacteria, that we need to ferment the product

Recipes cautioned that as it ferments it may ‘climb’ out of the jar, so place it on a plate or in a bowl, just in case! Mine was in a deep jar and only produced a few bubbles!

You may want to use gloves to massage the salt and spice mixture into the leaves. Wash the gloves after the salt rub.

The result was delicious….. will I do it again? Probably yes!

We have been enjoying it as a side dish. It is particularly good with gammon and roast chicken. It cuts the richness of roast pork. Along with pickles and Sauerkraut, it has an excellent shelf-life.

I used it as a salad to which I added avo slices. It was delicious!

Here’s the recipe